/Rafael Nadal begins bid for 13th French Open title with straight sets win over Egor Gerasimov

Rafael Nadal begins bid for 13th French Open title with straight sets win over Egor Gerasimov


Claycourt master Rafael Nadal started his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title with a straightforward 6-4 6-4 6-2 first-round win against Belarusian Egor Gerasimov.

The Spaniard, looking to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, is used to slow starts at Roland Garros and this year’s debut was no different.

On the revamped court Philippe Chatrier, whose roof stayed open throughout, Nadal converted all of his five break points to set up a meeting with American Mackenzie McDonald.

The second seed, who had complained about the new balls being too heavy, did not appear too bothered in front of some 200 fans, wrapping up the match with a service winner.

Nadal broke in the fifth game as he bagged the opening set in solid fashion, and he stole his opponent’s serve again in the third game of the second.

With a mountain to climb after falling two sets behind and as blue skies ate away the dark clouds, Gerasimov broke for 2-0 in the third set.

Nadal quickly regained control, however, and levelled for 2-2, with Gerasimov twisting his ankle on the last point of the fourth game.

The physiotherapist taped the Belarusian’s ankle and play resumed after a short interruption with Nadal breaking again for 3-2.

Gerasimov’s challenge was fading as Nadal piled on the pressure to seal a routine win, moving a step closer to a potential semi-final with last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem.

The match went as it suggested it should on paper, an easing into the 2020 French Open for Rafael Nadal, a chance to get to grips with the heavy conditions and even heavier balls that had so preoccupied him during the build up. Gerasimov offered himself up as a challenging opponent but, even without the late tumble, he never had enough to truly trouble the King of Clay. The quest to make history is very much underway.

This game for a 94th French Open match win. That’s one in the bag, into the right of the court. 

Gerasimov swings from the hip and gets lucky, kissing the right line. A deft dropshot looks like being picked up by Nadal but he can only net. 15-30. But then Gerasimov goes long with the return for 30-30.

A whipped forehand is too good for Gerasimov. Match point. And the world number 83 nets the return.

He would have run for that in the past but Gerasimov, hindered by his fall, cannot get anywhere near it. A rally-cutting dropshot is clever – and well executed – for 15-15. But the reprieve is temporary as Nadal steps it up with back-to-back points followed by the break.

Gerasimov is trying to keep his feet moving but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through his big frame to his feet. Like a hunter, Nadal is showing no mercy. Into the net goes Gerasimov and it’s 40-0.

A rare Nadal mistake at the net hands his opponent, who had already given up on the rally, a freebie. It was just a consolation as another ace from the Spaniard closes out the game. 

Right then. Gerasimov, foot freshly strapped with what looked like an entire roll of tape, is back up and on court. Unfortunately that tumble seems to have knocked the little spark that was still flickering in the Belarusian and he’s broken to love. The beginning of the end?

As Gerasimov receives a visit from the trainer, news from over on court 10 that Cameron Norrie has moved into a 3-0 lead against Daniel Galan. What a boost that would be if he could keep that up.

A look of frustration creeps onto Nadal’s face at 30-30. He wrong-foots Gerasimov for 40-30 and then gets a turn of luck when Gerasimov takes a tumble trying to retrieve a deep one, leaving Nadal to pat into the empty court for the hold. Nadal checks his opponent is okay, as replays show his foot got stuck in the clay and rolled over the ankle.

This wasn’t part of the Nadal plan. Outwardly he trots off across the baseline but inwardly he’s fuming I bet. It manifests itself in the next game too as he goes to 15-40. Gerasimov is going for broke, throwing everything bar the kitchen sink across the net. 

He looks like he’s done the hard work on the baseline but then he engages his opponent at the net. Mistake. Nadal forces one more shot and Gerasimov nets. 

NADAL BREAKS

05:03 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 4-6 2-0 Nadal (*denotes next server)

A change of tactic as Gerasimov goes with the longer rally but it just leaves him out of puff and exasperated with his racket hanging above his head when a tired return hits the net. A chink of light at 15-30 and then an overrule, after a lung-busting 24-shot rally, gives Gerasimov two lesser-spotted break points!

Nadal is ruthless in saving the first with a forehand but he can’t do anything about the second. I take back my previous post….

GERASIMOV BREAKS

04:56 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 4-6 1-0 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

You’d have to say the match outcome is only headed one way but Gerasimov is not letting the opportunity to test himself against the best pass him by completely. It’s a relatively simple hold. The problem is he hasn’t got anywhere near breaking his opponent.

04:53 PM

Mr Consistent

Tennis can be a simple game at times. Two break points in the match, two taken and two sets to the good by a 6-4 scoreline. Gerasimov has more winners (by one) but double the amount of unforced errors.

Back where he belongs - REUTERSBack where he belongs - REUTERS

Back where he belongs – REUTERS

04:51 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 4-6 Nadal (*denotes next server)

Gerasimov is not playing badly. It’s just who is stood on the opposite side of the net. 30-15 Nadal and it’s there to be hit in the mid court for Gerasimov but he applies too much fuel and his forehand rocket goes long. Now it’s Nadal’s turn to go long on his first set point. But when Gerasimov returns the favour again, the set gets the Spaniard’s name written all over it.

04:46 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 4-5 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Not often you get Nadal on his heels but Gerasimov does just that, driving a backhand up the line. He then does his best basketball player impression, hanging in the air to retrieve a lob and slam it back over the net into he clay.  Another ace says ‘you’ll need to serve for it if you want this set Mr Nadal’

04:44 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 3-5 Nadal (*denotes next server)

I must say, it is nice to hear the sound of real, rather than canned ‘real’, applause, watching the tennis thanks to the spattering of spectators allowed in at Roland Garros. They’re enjoying the Nadal show today, the Spaniard moving into a 40-0 lead. A big serve picks up on Gerasimov and he can only fling the return wildly out of court. 

The Belarusian will serve to stay in the set.

04:41 PM

Brit watch

Liam Broady’s French Open adventure is over. The qualifier is out in four sets against Jiri Vesely but it was a good battle by the Briton. Next up on court 10 is his compatriot Cameron Norrie, the last Brit standing against Daniel Galan.

04:39 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 3-4 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Serve volley tactics do the trick for Gerasimov first up. The 27-year-old has talent, as shown by soft hands again at the net. It’s just he’s up against a tennis god on clay. A big serve helps him along to 40-15 but another serve volley approach isn’t executed well enough. But Nadal is wide on the next so it’s another tick in the game column.

Staying in touch - AFPStaying in touch - AFP

Staying in touch – AFP

04:35 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 2-4 Nadal (*denotes next server)

Ominous signs on the Nadal serve as Gerasimov struggles to get a look in. We’re at 40-0 again in the blink of an eye. Nadal zaps two backhands back laser-like in succession. The second is wide but the game is wrapped up on the next point.

04:30 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 2-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Handy ace from Gerasimov. The world number 83 has to dig out a defensive shot on the run and Nadal has all the time to wait at the net and caress into the empty court. Better with the approach shot as Nadal nods his approval and then an ace to finish matters off. 

04:28 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 1-3 Nadal (*denotes next server)

The first of what could be seven matches in Paris this fortnight and Nadal is shaping up well faced with the heavier balls he is not happy with. A love to hold there.

04:24 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 1-2 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

The alarm bells starting to ring for Gerasimov at 0-30 but he draws level with a big serve and sliding volley that floats beautifully over the net and then dies in flight.

The two engage in net play but Nadal is always in control, toying with his opponent before finding the empty court for break point. Gerasimov’s attemped cross-court finds the net.

NADAL BREAKS

04:21 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 1-1 Nadal (*denotes next server)

In that first set Gerasimov actually hit the same amount of winners (8) as Nadal. The problem was that Nadal was higher all around with everything else. 

It’s the same in his opening service game of the second set too, just too good for his opponent.

04:16 PM

Gerasimov 4-6 1-0 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Gerasimov moves into a 30-0 lead but it is immediately wiped out. Beautiful play, backhand down the line has Nadal scrambling and then he volleys into the open court. That’s a solid hold all in all.

04:09 PM

Gerasimov* 4-6 Nadal (*denotes next server)

Fancy footwork by Nadal as a rogue ball is returned to him and he traps it with his foot. So that’s what he was doing during lockdown…

What a way to move to set point. Forehand deep to the far corner and then a casual dropshot. An ace adds a final flourish.

Business as usual on Philippe-Chatrier.

04:04 PM

Gerasimov 4-5 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Every point won is a victory for Gerasimov such is the effort he has to put in. He tries to mix it up by approaching the net but Nadal reads it, comes in himself and swats away a winner. But the Belarusian hangs in there and from 15-30, turns matters around to hold. Nadal will serve for the set.

04:01 PM

Gerasimov* 3-5 Nadal (*denotes next server)

Nadal may have appeared solemn and subdued in the build up to this year’s French Open but he’s looking right at home here today on Philippe-Chatrier. Another easy hold takes him to within a game of the opening set.

03:56 PM

Gerasimov 3-4 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Hearing that Nadal’s serve is about 5mph down on his usual speed. Could be the conditions but it could equally be the Spaniard just finding his range and accuracy early doors.

Gerasimov trying to keep the rallies short on this service game but that demands precision. That’s better though as he approaches the net and cuts matters short with a volley for 40-30. Nadal brings up deuce but the Spaniard is beaten down the line by depth and pace – not often you see that. And another point for the hold.

Penny for your thoughts - REUTERSPenny for your thoughts - REUTERS

Penny for your thoughts – REUTERS

03:51 PM

Gerasimov* 2-4 Nadal (*denotes next server)

Watching Nadal’s feet move at speed is mesmerising. The action off the racket is not bad either and he Hmakes it so hard to get a foothold in the rally. Even when the drop shot is not executed perfectly, he switches grip and whips the ball down the line for a winner for 40-30. Gerasimov nets.

03:46 PM

What Gerasimov and the world is up against

03:46 PM

Gerasimov 2-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Gerasimov sprays a forehand deep into the corner for a winner for 30-15 before an unlucky net cord takes his next effort out of court. Danger time….

Metronome-type baseline dominance from Nadal as he grinds down his opponent for break point. He takes charge in classic style, switching up booming strokes for a delicate drop shot on the slide.

NADAL BREAKS

03:41 PM

*Gerasimov 2-2 Nadal (*denotes next server)

 Nadal’s radar is very much on it from the start here, moving into 40-0.

That’s good movement by Gerasimov, scampering into the net for a volley, which would look more at home on a grasscourt. 

Nadal closes matters out on the next point.

And for my next trick... - REUTERSAnd for my next trick... - REUTERS

And for my next trick… – REUTERS

03:36 PM

Gerasimov 2-1 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Skills at the net from the big Belarusian, coming in to kill a service return from Nadal. The Spaniard hammers another return with interest which fails to come back but Gerasimov digs himself out of trouble with two big serves. (That could be a recurring theme this afternoon). 

Going toe to toe with Nadal is a brave tactic and the champion picks him off before Gerasimov closes out the game.

03:33 PM

*Gerasimov 1-1 Nadal (*denotes next server)

A couple of longer rallies to test out the court conditions and those new heavier balls which are not to Nadal’s liking. The Spaniard responds with a hold to love. 

03:30 PM

Gerasimov 1-0 Nadal* (*denotes next server)

Egor Gerasimov gets us underway. And that will be a nerve settler as he races into a 40-0 lead finished off with a booming serve out wide. 

03:28 PM

King of Clay back in his playground

In no way daunting for his opponent… Nadal’s record in Paris stands at 93-2. 

If it is cold out there, Nadal is immune to it, he’s gone for a baby blue shirt and short combo with neon pink headband and sweat bands. 

His opponent in white shirt with monochrome sleeves and upper design and matching shorts. 

03:19 PM

Brit watch

While we wait for the players to come out, just a quick update on French Open newbie Liam Broady. The Brit has just taken the second set against Vesely 7-5 to level the match. Great effort from him.

03:09 PM

Good afternoon

For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open – the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit -there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship – extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament – he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

He spoke on Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros”- a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast. “But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, who is out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all … I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but [that’s] something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row. So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.” Associated Press

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